Oakland County Circuit Court Ombudsperson
In 2011, the Oakland County Bar Association, with the support of the Oakland County Circuit Court, established the position of circuit court ombudsperson.
The purpose of the ombudsperson program is to provide a discreet forum for the informal resolution of issues and matters in which there is no other established or preferred procedure to secure redress. The ombudsperson serves as a neutral, vested with the authority to act as an intermediary between attorneys and judicial officers, and other personnel. Attorneys who litigate before the court have the option of remaining anonymous while trying to resolve sensitive issues. The ombudsperson program has provided a valuable conduit for resolution of delicate questions and issues that otherwise would have no appropriate outlet. The hallmarks of the ombudsperson are confidentiality, neutrality, informality and independence. The ombudsperson does not report to and is not an agent of the court or of the OCBA.
Currently, the ombudsperson role is shared by two OCBA members, Julie I. Fershtman and Edward H. Pappas. To properly perform their job, which requires both the trust and respect of the bench and bar, Ms. Fershtman and Mr. Pappas operate entirely outside of the judicial process so that they can effectively and efficiently address matters raised by the bench and bar. A person desiring to use the program can approach either one based upon skill set, comfort level or availability.
HOW IT WORKS
Judges or attorneys, but not parties, may contact an ombudsperson to discuss matters within his or her purview. The subject matter of inquiries within the jurisdiction of the ombudsperson may not include any substantive aspect of any case before the court. The ombudsperson will determine whether each inquiry falls within the scope of his or her duties and, if so, counsel the person making the inquiry and determine jointly whether any action is appropriate. If a contact with the court or counsel is deemed appropriate, the ombudsperson, acting confidentially and without identifying the person who initiated the inquiry, will contact the appropriate person regarding the matter. Of course, the ombudsperson may explain, depending on the particular case or situation, the likelihood (or lack of likelihood) that the court or attorney will be able to determine who is making the inquiry. For attorney-initiated inquiries, in general the ombudsperson, using his or her discretion, will advise all counsel of record of his or her involvement and communication with the court. Upon conclusion of the matter, no record will be kept by the ombudsperson regarding his handling of the matter or the inquiry and all related communications, once again, will be kept strictly confidential and not for use in any proceeding or otherwise.
ABOUT THE OMBUDSPERSONS
Julie I. Fershtman is an Equity Shareholder and Vice President at Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC, in Southfield. A practitioner for 33 years, Ms. Fershtman handles a broad range of business, personal injury, contract, and insurance coverage matters pertaining to several industries. She is a past President of the State Bar of Michigan and was the fifth woman in the bar’s history to be elected to this role. The State Bar recently selected her to serve on the ABA House of Delegates, representing Michigan. She is well-known through her bar leadership and her co-chair work in 2015 and 2016 for the State Bar‘s 21st Century Practice Task Force. She is the recipient of many local and national awards including the Roberts P. Hudson Award, the State Bar’s highest honor.
Edward H. Pappas is the Chairman Emeritus of Dickinson Wright PLLC and focuses his practice on complex commercial and business litigation, arbitration and mediation. Mr. Pappas is a former President of the State Bar of Michigan and the Oakland County Bar Association, and is currently the President of the Michigan State Bar Foundation. He also is a Fellow of the International Society of Barristers, the American College of Civil Trial Mediators, and the Litigation Counsel of America, as well as a Member of the National Academy and Distinguished Neutrals, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Panel of Distinguished Neutrals, and the American Arbitration Association's Roster of Neutral Commercial Litigation Arbitrators and Mediators.